Scotland V Australia
What an astonishing match. Pinch yourself. This was no dream.
Scotland recorded comfortably their biggest win against any of the Southern Hemisphere powerhouses to end the Autumn Tests at BT Murrayfield on a high of Everest proportions.
It was their second successive win against Australia, remember, the team ranked third in the world, and it came by eight tries to four.
During these November Tests Scotland have scored a remarkable 16 tries. That statistic will sit comfortably with those who have marvelled at the free spirit of Gregor Townsend since his days as a schoolboy at Galashiels Academy.
But today we also saw that Townsend and his players know how to win games . . .
You can rightly reflect that the sending off of Australia’s tight-head, Sekope Kepu just before half-time was of significance but you also have to acknowledge that the manner in which Scotland are playing the game right now has quite a bearing too.
Scotland can recall what it is to be short-handed in an international match. Remember what happened in Cardiff when Stuart Hogg was sent off in 2014. But you have to be clinical and mentally alert to deliver this kind of winning performance and, boy, Scotland were!
After the high drama of last weekend when Scotland ran New Zealand so agonisingly close in a match illuminated by the sumptuous skills of Stuart Hogg, sadly the full-back sustained an injury during warm-up and could not take the field.
Sean Maitland thus switched to full-back, Byron McGuigan was promoted from the bench to a starting spot on the wing – after having made his debut off the bench last week – and Ruaridh Jackson joined the substitutes.
Scotland kicked off towards Roseburn Park and two early penalties were awarded to the Wallabies. From the second, Reece Hodge opted to go for goal from the 10-metre line wide on the right, but the ball sailed wide.
Australia threatened from an Ali Price touch-finder that was pulled back to a lineout on the home 22 but Scotland’s combative work at breakdown won a relieving penalty.
The action continued unabated as Price just failed to gather a pass which had followed a pulverising 40 metre driven maul, for which the referee was playing an advantage for a Wallaby infringement. However, Finn Russell’s touch-finder was over-ambitious.
The pace was utterly unrelenting with Russell creating openings from a quickly-taken lineout and McGuigan, on his first start for Scotland, twice making inroads on the left. A chance looked as if it was looming but Hamish Watson’s pass to McGuigan was just off the mark.
Eventually, after Stuart McInally had nailed a retreating Will Genia in a tackle and Russell had waltzed his way past would-be tacklers into the visitors’ 22, Scotland were awarded a penalty and Russell goaled (3-0, 14 mins).
Two minutes later, BT Murrayfield erupted as an Australian handling move broke down and McGuigan hacked on. It seemed that his second fly-hack might send the ball closer to Hodge, the Australian left-wing, but dexterity was intact, as McGuigan pounced for his first try for his country. Russell converted (10-0, 17 mins).
You just could not draw breath. A turnover in midfield in Scotland’s favour, Peter Horne rescuing and then Russell menacing with a blindside probe, which ended with a contest for ball within millimetres of the Australia line between Genia and McGuigan. On the evidence of one replay, TMO Hughes ruled that Genia had won the race and carried over. Alas, at the scrum five, Scotland were free-kicked for an early engagement.
The percentage of ball in play was through the roof but into the second quarter matters calmed a wee bit, but only just, as Grant Gilchrist had to make a saving tackle on Kurtley Beale in an attack which ended with a forward pass against Australia.
A missed penalty to touch from Russell heralded a period of Australian ascendancy which culminated in a try for Tevita Kuridrani, at the same end he had scored at the stadium last year. Bernard Foley converted (10-7, 34 mins).
Then a handling error from Tommy Seymour was seized upon clinically by Australia. The winger failed to gather a pass from Huw Jones, Foley escaped up the touchline and although Maitland made the tackle, the offload to Kuridrani was perfect for the big centre to rumble in for his second try. Foley missed the conversion. (10-12, 38 mins).
From the restart, Australia collected but, from a ruck, a wipe out on the head of Watson by Sekope Kepu was picked up by the officials. After analysis of the replay, referee Pascal Gauzere red-carded the Australian tight-head.
Scotland then showed they were alert and alive to the situation. Russell opted for the touchline from the penalty and from possession at the tail, Scotland steamrollered forward, Price got the ball on the five-metre line but a sublime step off his right foot and then a telescopic reach found the try line. It was the scrum-half’s second try for his country. Russell converted.
Half-time: Scotland 17 Australia 12
Australia struck back within two minutes of the restart with Beale getting outside Watson after a multi-phase attack for the full-back to level the scores. Foley made a hash of the conversion (17-17, 44 mins).
Parity did not last long. Australia guddled the restart and from a clearance Maitland began a sequence which included a quick tap penalty from Price and ended with McGuigan firing a pass to Maitland who romped up the East Stand touchline for his sixth try for Scotland. Russell’s conversion did not find the target (22-17, 46 mins).
The spaces were opening up now and with Russell and Horne tidying on the right Scotland again found opportunity a-begging, courtesy of a thunderous 40 metre surge from half-time sub prop Jamie Bhatti. The former slaughter man was involved again and Scotland could not be repelled as Jonny Gray sailed through a gap as wide as the Forth and Clyde canal for his fourth try for Scotland. Russell converted (29-17, 51 mins).
Scotland continued to surge forward at every opportunity and from a penalty in the 22, Russell tapped. His pass to Huw Jones wasn’t the tidiest but the dynamic centre – who scored a brace on his first start against these opponents last year – gathered and blazed away for Scotland’s fifth try. Russell could not convert (34-17, 56 mins).
Scotland’s supporters were lapping this up. The third best team in the world were being put to the sword spectacularly and the fact they were down to 14 men and the nature of their dismantling was all the sweeter.
McGuigan made it try number six – and his second of the day – on the hour as Stephen Moore – who scored against Scotland in happier times for his country 11 years ago – was given a warm reception by the crowd as he retired on his 129th appearance.
At the other end of the cap spectrum, Phil Burleigh was introduced to make his debut for Horne. Burleigh is Scotland cap number 1089.
Australia, with captain Hooper still trying to provide an energetic lead, did grab their fourth try, confirmed by TMO Hughes and awarded to Lopeti Timani, the substitute lock. Foley converted (39-24, 68 mins).
But if we are talking leadership here, we had the illustration of what it meant to Scotland’s skipper John Barclay as from a couple of tireless carries from Jonny Gray, the flanker powered over. Russell converted. (46-24, 74 mins)
In the final minutes, Beale was yellow carded for deliberately nudging the ball into touch as McGuigan sniffed another try. The well-rehearsed driven lineout play was then unveiled and McInally knew how to bring about the ending that the stadium craved with Scotland’s eight try.
Russell converted and Scotland could celebrate as the Hopetoun Cup remained on Scottish soil!
Final Score: Scotland 53 Australia 24
Scotland: Sean Maitland (Saracens); Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Peter Horne (all Glasgow Warriors), Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks); Finn Russell, Ali Price (both Glasgow Warriors); Darryl Marfo, Stuart McInally, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist (all Edinburgh Rugby), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), John Barclay (Scarlets) CAPTAIN, Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors). Subs: Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) for McInally 57-69 mins, Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors) for Marfo, 40 mins, Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors) for Berghan, 40 mins, Ben Toolis (Edinburgh Rugby) for Gilchrist, 52 mins, Cornell de Preez (Edinburgh Rugby) for Watson 66 mins, Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors) for Price 66 mins, Phil Burleigh (Edinburgh Rugby) for Horne 61 mins, Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors) for Maitland 72 mins.
Australia: Kurtley Beale; Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi, Reece Hodge; Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Scott Sio, Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Blake Enever, Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper CAPTAIN, Sean McMahon.Subs: Tatafu Polota-Nau for Moore 60 mins); Tetera Faulkner for Sio, 71 mins, Taniele Tupou for McCalman 52 mins, Lukhan Tu for Enever 52 mins, Lopeti Timani for Simmons 67 mins, Nick Phipps for Genia, 56 mins, Karmichael Hunt, Henry Speight for Koroibete 67 mins.
Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France).
Assistant referees: J P Doyle (England) and David Wilkinson (Ireland). TMO: Graham Hughes (England).
Eden Mill Man of the Match: Byron McGuigan (Scotland).